When it was time for tea, Miss Manderly smiled. “Young ladies,” she said, “you have made such fine progress. I think the time has come for you to take turns serving the tea. Annabelle, you are the eldest. You shall serve the tea today.”
Felicity was nervous. She had not decided what she was going to do about tea, either. Her family wasn’t drinking tea at home. Should she drink it here? She watched as Annabelle sat behind the tea table acting very important. After Annabelle prepared the tea, she filled Miss Manderly’s cup first, then Elizabeth’s cup, and then her own.
Miss Manderly leaned forward in her chair. “Annabelle, my dear,” she said. “You have forgotten to serve Miss Merriman her tea.”
“Oh!” said Annabelle, holding her cup daintily. “I was only thinking of the carpet.”
“The carpet?” asked Miss Manderly.
“Yes, indeed,” said Annabelle. She put her nose in the air. “I did not serve Felicity because I did not want her to toss the tea all over your fine carpet.”
Felicity felt her face getting red.
“Annabelle!” gasped Miss Manderly. “Apologize at once!”
“Oh, but Felicity would be proud to toss out her tea,” said Anabelle. “Her father said it was right to toss out tea. He said those hot-heads in Yorktown were right to throw the tea into the river.”
“No!” cried Felicity. “My father didn’t say that! He—”
“Yes, he did!” snapped Annabelle. “Bitsy heard him. Didn’t you, Bitsy?”
Elizabeth didn’t say anything.
“But that’s not what he said,” cried Felicity. “Tell her, Elizabeth!”
Elizabeth would not look at Felicity.
Felicity tried to explain. “My father said the men who threw the tea into the river thought that they were right. They did it to show the king that they did not agree with the tax on tea.”
“Your father disagrees with the king’s tax, too!” said Annabelle. “That’s why he’s not going to sell tea in his store anymore. He is disloyal to the king. Your father is a traitor!”
“No!” shouted Felicity. “My father is not a traitor!” She jumped up from her chair and knocked against the tea tray. The teapot teetered and the cups and saucers rattled. Felicity grabbed her sampler frame in her fist and ran out of the room. She slammed the door behind her.
Felicity was in a red rage. Home she stormed, away from Miss Manderly’s prim little house, through the crowded, dusty streets. How could Elizabeth do it? How could she? she kept asking herself. It was Elizabeth she was most angry at. Why didn’t she tell Annabelle the truth? Father was only trying to be fair. Father is not the one who is a traitor, thought Felicity. Elizabeth is the traitor; to me!
Felicity burst into the house and pounded up the stairs to her room. She curled up on her bed in a tight roll. Her sampler was loosened and wrinkled. She could not think. She was too mad to cry. Anger boiled inside her. Elizabeth was supposed to be her friend. Instead, she let Annabelle tell hateful lies about her father. I hate Annabelle, she thought, and I hate Elizabeth, too. I don’t want to see either of them ever again.
From that moment, Felicity’s life changed. It was as if she had walked out of the sunlight and into a land of gloom and shadows, where it was never bright, just gray all the day long. The outside world did not exist. No holiday visitors came to call. Felicity did not go to lessons at Miss Manderly’s, or to Elizabeth’s house, or to the milliner’s shop to visit the pretty doll.
Felicity, who usually found it hard to sit still for more than five minutes, now took turns with her father and Rose, sitting next to her mother’s bedside for hours and hours. She didn’t want to be anywhere else. When her mother shook with chills, Felicity covered her with blankets. When her mother tossed and turned with fever, Felicity wiped her forehead with a cool cloth dipped in lavender scent. Sometimes her mother woke, but she was too weak to speak. Felicity held a soup plate of broth to her mother’s lips and gave her spoonfuls of it. Most of the time, her mother slept a troubled, uncomfortable, restless sleep.
The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day blurred into one long twilight. When Felicity thought about the dance lesson at the Palace and the beautiful blue gown, none of it seemed to matter. There was only one thing Felicity wanted now. She wanted Mother to get well.
On New Year’s Day, Felicity sat next to her mother’s bed listening to her faint breath. “Happy New Year, Mother,” she whispered. Her mother did not stir. A cold, cold fear filled Felicity. Her mother’s face was white as the moon. When Mother was well, her hands were always busy, always moving, always making things or doing things for others. Now her hands lay still upon the blankets. Felicity lifted one of her mother’s hands and held it to her own cheek. “I won’t let you die,” she whispered. Felicity wished she could pour some of her own warmth and energy into her mother. If only she could make Mother well! If only there were something she could do! But she was helpless. Felicity put her head down on the bedstead and cried.
“Felicity, my dear!” exclaimed her mother. “Why are you twitching and fidgeting so?”
“I have the most awful itch, Mother,” said Felicity. “I think my stays are laced too tight today. They’re so pinching and uncomfortable.” Felicity pulled at her stays, which were laced up her back like a tight vest.
Mrs. Merriman shook her head and laughed. “You think your stays are laced too tight every day! But you do grow so fast, maybe you are right. Come here, my child, and I will loosen them for you.”
“Thank you, Mother,” said Felicity. She sighed with relief as her mother loosened the laces.
“I’ve told you many times, Lissie. Your stays will not pinch you if you sit up straight,” said Mrs. Merriman. “And they will not be uncomfortable if you move gracefully instead of galloping about.” She straightened Felicity’s cap. “There, now, pretty one. You are set to rights. Fetch me your paper, so that I may see your handwriting practice.”
Felicity blushed as she handed her mother the paper. “I haven’t quite finished it, Mother,” she said.
“So I see,” said Mrs. Merriman. “The first few letters are very fine. But you lost patience when you got to the letter H. The rest of the letters go trip-trotting all over the page and then turn into sketches of horses!” She put the paper down and looked Felicity in the eye. “Lissie, what am I to do with you? You must learn to finish what you begin. If you spent half as much time on your letters as you do daydreaming of horses, you’d have the finest hand in Williamsburg.” She sighed. “Go along to the well now. Fetch some water and scrub your hand. Mind you get the ink off.”
“Yes, Mother,” said Felicity. She turned to go, but stopped at the door. “Mother,” she asked. “May I help Ben make a delivery?”
“Yes, my lively girl,” laughed her mother. “I know very well there’s no use trying to keep you inside when your mind is already out and away.”
“Thank you, Mother!” said Felicity as she flew out the door.
“Lissie! Your hat!” called her mother. But she was too late. Felicity was already halfway to the well.
Felicity’s hand was still a little wet and a little inky when she rushed down the street to her father’s store. Just as she got there, she saw Ben come out. He stopped and looked up the street toward the silversmith’s shop, then down the street toward the church, as if he were not sure which way to go.
“Ben, do you know the way to Mrs. Fitchett’s house?” Felicity asked.
Ben shrugged. “I’ll find it.”
Ben’s shyness didn’t stop Felicity. “Come on,” she said. “I’ll show you.”
Ben shrugged again. “As you wish,” he said. Then he was quiet.
Felicity didn’t mind. It was so lovely to be outside. And this was just the kind of afternoon she loved best. She could see a few leaves that had turned bright gold. They were like small banners announcing that summer’s heat was ending and fall’s cool weather was on its way.
Felicity was supposed to be leading Ben, but Ben took such long strides Felicity had to trot to keep up with him. Finally she lifted the hems of her petticoats so that she could take long strides, too. It felt wonderful to be able to stretch her legs.
“Oh, I wish I could wear breeches,” she said.
“What?” asked Ben.
“Breeches,” said Felicity. “Gowns and petticoats are so bothersome. I’m forever stepping on my hem and tripping unless I take little baby steps. Small steps are supposed to look ladylike. But I can’t get anywhere. ’Tis a terrible bother. In breeches your legs are free. You can straddle horses, jump over fences, run as fast as you wish. You can do anything.”
Ben didn’t answer, but he shifted the sack of oats to his other shoulder. Now Felicity could see his face.
“It’s very tiresome to be a girl sometimes,” Felicity went on. “There are so many things a young lady must not do. I’m told the same things over and over again. Don’t talk too loud. Don’t walk too fast. Don’t fidget. Don’t dirty your hands. Don’t be impatient.” Felicity sighed. “It’s very hard. You’re lucky to be a lad. You can do whatever you like.”
Ben shook his head. “I can’t do whatever I like. I’m an apprentice.”
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